Protecting Older Loved Ones During the Winter

Adjusting to temperature extremes and winter weather is harder as we get older. Winter weather can include snow, ice, cold temperatures, strong winds, heavy rains, flooding, and more. Help older family members prepare ahead of time.

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Protecting Older Loved Ones During the Winter
4 Min Read January 12th, 2023

There are numerous risks that older persons face throughout the winter. Seniors run the risk of slipping and falling on snow or ice, but they also run the risk of hypothermia, seasonal depression, and flu-related problems.

As a friend, family member, or caregiver to an older adult during the winter months, there are ways to support them, help ensure their safety and well-being, and improve their quality of life, no matter their level of independence. 

Every season has potential hazards, especially for older adults. That said, it's essential to care for their well-being no matter the weather. Generally, winter weather can present many challenges for seniors. If your older loved one needs help with daily living activities because of a chronic illness, mobility issue, dementia, or frailty, keeping them safe during the winter should be a priority.

Frequently Inspect Their Home

It's critical to check on your loved ones during the wintertime to ensure their well-being. It's also crucial to assess their home. You don't want them to live in poor conditions during the winter season. If needed, winterize the home to ensure good living conditions. For example, testing the heating system is one way to winterize your accessible home. Proper heating prevents hypothermia and other cold weather-related illnesses.

Older adults are more sensitive to cold (and heat) compared to younger people. Hypothermia, or a body temperature below 95°F, increases a person's chance of developing heart disease and kidney or liver damage, particularly if they have a history of having low body temperatures or previously experienced hypothermia.

The CDC suggests that the thermostat should be set to at least 68–70°F. Be sure that unused spaces in their home are closed off to reduce heating costs. Close the vents, lock the doors, and keep the basement door closed in these spaces. To prevent drafts, place a towel that has been rolled in front of each door.

Verify that your windows aren't causing the home to lose heat. Close the blinds and the curtains. Try using weather stripping or caulk to keep the cold air out of any gaps around the windows.

On very cold days, be sure they keep warm inside with a blanket over their legs. Many older adults will wear socks and slippers as well. Even at night when sleeping, long underwear under their pajamas, extra covers. and a cap over their head can be helpful in keeping warm.

If there is a caregiver inside the home, discuss this with the care recipient. If your loved one is independent, discuss this with them. It is always a good idea to check on them in person or remotely using technology to gauge their ability to maintain a warm environment. 

Ensure Access to Winter Gear

Along with a proper heating system, ensure access to winter gear. Gather blankets, jackets, hats, and other warm apparel, and place them in convenient areas such as the couch, bed, and closet. When seniors want warm clothes, they'll have access to them all season long.

Create a Transportation Plan

Many older adults still drive, but driving during winter weather can be hazardous, regardless of age. Older adults' reflexes are slower, and their eyesight is not as sharp as it was when they were younger. Winter weather complicates these issues.

Creating a transportation plan for them can be beneficial. In hazardous conditions, create a transportation plan for your loved ones. Appoint a family member to drive seniors to and from appointments or help them run errands.

You can also seek transportation services for older adults. Some home care agencies have services that transport seniors to their desired places. Ultimately, you don't want your loved ones to miss necessary appointments because they cannot drive.

Plan In-House Activities

Winter isolation and seasonal depression are real. The cold months are a dreary time for some people. Winter sadness or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects roughly 5% of Americans, with another 10-15% having a milder variation of this condition. 

Combat winter blues by planning in-house activities. Personal interaction with family and friends is a mood booster for many! With their permission, schedule family dinners, movie nights, and activities at the loved one's house.

Fun Ways to Chase Winter Blues Away

For weekdays, caregivers or family members can engage them to keep them mentally active during a time when you are usually more inactive because of the winter weather.

Prepare a Safety Plan

Although no one anticipates the worst-case scenario, it's critical to acknowledge winter woes. Prepare a safety plan for events such as power outages or winter storms. When bad weather is on the rise, have an evacuation plan for loved ones. 

Disaster kits are a wise, prudent thing to have in any circumstance, but it's definitely a good idea to customize one for the needs of older people during a severe winter storm. Most kits include first aid supplies, a can opener, medication, nonperishable food and water for several days, flashlights, batteries, and radios.

If they have a pet, remember them; be sure they have the food, water, meds, and blankets that they'll require.

Review with Professional Caregiver

Be sure you review the winter storm plan with the caregiver if your loved one has one in place. What will happen if they can't get to the home because of the weather -- or they can't leave your loved ones' home at the end of the day?

If the caregiver works for a home health agency, discuss winter weather plans ahead of time. Otherwise, enjoy the changes of the season and know that tomorrow's weather may be different than today.

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About the Author

Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.

LTC News Contributor Mallory Knee

Mallory Knee

Contributor since September 25th, 2020

Editor's Note

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